Thursday, 8 November 2012

Stone in a Landslide by Maria Barbal

Stone in a Landslide is the second book in the Peirene Press series 'Female Voices' and is set in Spain before and during the Civil War.  Conxa is only thirteen when she is sent to a neighbouring mountain village to work for her aunt and uncle.  Life is hard in the way it has been for generations; men and women work long hours in the fields for little reward, the chores are endless and it's a struggle to get by. Conxa's days of work are brightened when she meets Jaume and they marry young.  But Jaume is an idealist captivated by democratic ideas and becomes a prominent local voice in the revolution. When this fledgling revolution is brutally crushed, Conxa has to face the inevitable consequences and the devastating effect on her life.

I enjoyed Stone in a Landslide mainly for the wonderful narrative voice of Conxa.  She's born into a hard life where being pragmatic and hard-working are skills prized above all, but she has a dreamy, romantic soul that can't be squashed.  She finds old dresses in the attic and puts them on, dreaming of a brighter future.  She loves pretty things.  She dawdles in the fields watching the sky.  She loves Jaume because he "puts new colours into her mundane world".  She really values happiness and is always seeking it for herself and her loved ones, prioritising feelings over politics at every turn.  It's hard not to like a character like this and even though Conxa is extremely naive about what is happening around her, I adored her.

I didn't know much about the Spanish Civil War before reading this book and it only filled in a few of my gaps.  Although it's set in a particular time and place (Spain in the early twentieth century), the story is more about the effects of war and political suppression on individual families; so in a sense, which war it is doesn't matter.  The feelings and consequences described are universal.  I was expecting the book to be more hard-hitting than it was in the final sections - I felt for Conxa but she became so detached that it was hard to really understand what it would have been like to be in her shoes.  I thought the effects of war could have been portrayed more powerfully than they were.  I wanted the book to upset me but it didn't.

Whilst I liked this book, I felt like I was reading it at a distance, never emotionally engaged with the story.  I could see Conxa was devastated, but I wasn't devastated with her, which prevented the book from having a strong impact.  It was expertly written, sensitively translated and taught me about a different period of history, but ultimately I needed more emotional engagement to properly enjoy it.

Source: From the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
First Published: 2010
Score: 3.5 out of 5

11 comments:

  1. I'm with you. I find it difficult to love a book if I don't engage 100% with the characters.

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    1. Yes, it's one thing I'm very fussy about.

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  2. I must admit I am curious about this publisher it does seem they have some interesting titles, like Mr Darwin's Gardener. Translation can be tricky, it seems to be an art in itself.
    I also find it hard to really like a book if I don't fully connect with the characters.

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    1. You'll be seeing lots of reviews of books by Periene, Arabella, as I'm reading nine of them as part of a readathon. With translation, I always wish I could read the original language too, so I could truly judge how good the translation is.

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  3. I agree with you on most points here, especially the question of distance, although by the sounds of it I connected with her more than you did. She is a wonderful character though, isn't she? I loved her earthy descriptive power and her clear and vivid love for her family and the land.

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    1. Yes, Conxa was a breath of fresh air, the best part of the book.

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  4. I need to connect with the characters in some way to feel like I've gotten the most out of a book. Sorry you didn't feel that with this one.

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  5. I definitely agree that connection to the characters in the book makes or breaks it for you. This book was on my TBR list, not sure if I will check it out or not. I am not sure if you have had a chance to check George Makris's latest historical fiction (Quest for the Lost Name) out yet. I just finished it and found it to be a great story with fascinating, well-developed characters.

    http://questforthelostname.com/

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  6. Sometimes I can enjoy a book without an emotional connection with the characters, but only if it powerfully portrays the time and setting. It doesn't sound like this does that, but it still sounds very intriguing.

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  7. I've not ever heard of this book before, so thanks for bringing it to my attention. I don't think I would enjoy reading a book like this one, though, if I didn't feel connected to the characters. The Spanish Civil War was such an emotional time, and it seems strange to feel that disconnected from the people who went through it.

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